Train­ing Tips

Don’t hiit it all win­ter

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by An­drew Ran­dell and Steve Neal of The Cy­cling Gym

Lately, it seems ev­ery­one’s ob­ses­sion in cy­cling cir­cles is max­i­mal power, as if cy­cling only con­sisted of max­i­mal ef­forts up the hill on the lo­cal club ride. What rid­ers for­get about is all the time and ped­alling it takes to get to the hill.

This fo­cus on max­i­mal power has come into fash­ion with the in­tro­duc­tion of high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (hiit). Re­search shows that do­ing hiit train­ing can im­prove your max­i­mal and en­durance abil­i­ties, so now many cy­clists think we should train this way all the time. While hiit does play a part in a proper train­ing pro­gram, it is only a small one. Hav­ing a high ca­pac­ity to do train­ing, or an im­pres­sive max­i­mal wattage, isn’t a good in­di­ca­tor of how you will per­form out­doors.

Cy­cling events and week­end club rides tend to be mul­ti­hour en­deav­ours, of­ten be­ing in ex­cess of three hours or more. What be­comes im­por­tant in this sce­nario is what kind of work you can do in an aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity – what your tempo abil­ity is – and your body’s abil­ity to use its var­i­ous fu­els. Your body burns car­bo­hy­drate (sugar) or fat on a ride. Most rid­ers can only store about 2,000 calo­ries of car­bo­hy­drate, how­ever, even the skin­ni­est of rid­ers have an al­most lim­it­less store of fat avail­able.

When you ride at or be­low your tempo heart rate, which is 80–83 per cent of your max­i­mal heart rate, your body is burn­ing fat pri­mar­ily, with a lit­tle bit of sugar, as its fuel source. Any­thing above this heart rate and the mix starts to change, with sugar be­com­ing the pri­mary fuel. The harder the ef­fort, the more sugar you need in or­der to do it. You need sugar to jam with the best when the time comes.

Now let’s con­sider what is hap­pen­ing when you are do­ing your club ride af­ter a win­ter of “hard” train­ing. You have spent a lot of time train­ing at thresh­old and do­ing work. Your max­i­mal power has in­creased slightly. But what we want to know is how strong your tempo abil­ity is rel­a­tive to this max­i­mal power. Typ­i­cally at our gym, we would say that your tempo power needs to be at 75–80 per cent of your max­i­mal power in or­der to be in bal­ance. If your tempo abil­ity isn’t very strong – even though you can push out a big max­i­mal wattage num­ber – your heart rate will likely be above the 83 per cent ceil­ing of the fat­burn­ing, tempo zone when you are rid­ing in the group. A high heart rate means that while you are rid­ing in the group, you are burn­ing mainly sugar as a fuel source. Do this long enough, say dur­ing the time it takes to get to the point on the ride where ev­ery­one likes to jam, and you won’t have any sugar left to burn as a fuel source. You won’t be able to keep up and will be left won­der­ing why the other rid­ers are bet­ter.

A sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion is that the stronger rid­ers likely have a bet­ter tempo abil­ity as a per­cent­age of their max­i­mal power. While rid­ing in the group, they can ride be­low the 83 per cent heart rate ceil­ing for tempo, burn­ing pri­mar­ily fat as their fuel source and sav­ing the sugar for when it mat­ters. In­ter­est­ingly, their max­i­mal power may be lower than yours. Yet, when they get to the jam ses­sion, de­spite hav­ing a lower max­i­mal power num­ber, they are able to ride fast be­cause they still have sugar left in their sys­tems.

We aren’t say­ing that isn’t im­por­tant. This type of ef­fort is what can de­ter­mine mak­ing the split on the group ride or the race-win­ning move. But you still need an aer­o­bic sys­tem to get to the point in your ride to make the big ef­fort. You need to get there with sugar to burn. Mak­ing sure that your aer­o­bic sys­tem is ad­e­quately de­vel­oped is the way to do this.

“Your tempo power needs to be at 75–80 per cent of your max­i­mal power in or­der to be in bal­ance.”

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